The New Government of Georgia Is a Chance for Russia to Normalize Its Relations with Georgia

Topic: The Resolutions of Georgian-Abkhazian, Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Russian Conflicts as Missed Opportunities in the Past, or as Probable Prospects for the Future.    

The internet press conference of the new Minister of Georgia for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili for Armenian and Azerbaijani media took place on October 30, 2012 on Public Dialogues website.

Joint Internet press conferences with leading experts from different countries on the topical issues of the modern times are organized within the framework of the project, entitled "Enhancing knowledge and understanding of ‘the other side’ by Armenians and Azerbaijani through Alternative and First-Hand Information". This project, implemented by Region Research Center (Armenia) and the Institute for Peace and Democracy (Azerbaijan), is supported by the British Embassies in Armenia and Azerbaijan.   


Tarana, "Turan" news agency - (Azerbaijan)

1.What do you think the prospects of the settlement of the conflict may be in the current geopolitical situation (within the EU, CIS and the Caucasus families)? 
- I do not know, neither do I understand what the Caucasian Family is. Georgia is not a member of the CIS. And if neither the OSCE nor the UN can be involved in the regulation of our conflicts, the European Union remains to be the only format. The Geneva format operates in the EU and it is working on the resolution of the conflict between Georgia and Russia. In order to prevent the resumption of hostilities observers for the EU monitoring mission are working all over Georgia.
2. Does the new government have a concrete plan it will employ when handling the settlement? If yes, what are the political and economic aspects of it? Once Saakashvili spoke of such a plan in the Council of Europe, but it was not implemented.
- There is a specific plan and strategy for the settlement, and we would not want to publicize it before it is agreed upon within the Government of Georgia. But I can publicize the main goal of this strategy which is the peaceful settlement of our conflicts, without any bellicose rhetoric, when the ensured living conditions take into account the interests of both the Abkhaz and the Ossetian population.
Natigh Javadli, "the Bizim Yol" newspaper - (Azerbaijan)
1. Today, Russia is making use of any possible advantage in order to maintain its influence in the South Caucasus. If the Kremlin pursues its imperial policy (Putin said that 80% of the population of the unrecognized republics are Russian citizens), how can Ivanishvili reconcile the Government with Russia?
- It is necessary to make a number of steps to ensure that the neo-imperialist policy of the Kremlin is more or less manageable. After all, the Kremlin has its own interests in Georgia. Gas and oil pipelines, railways and highways run across Georgia, besides, there are ports in Georgia. I do not think that it is only Georgia who loses because of the absence of a dialogue between Georgia and Russia. I think that the new government of Georgia is a chance for Russia to normalize its relations with Georgia. And a lot depends on the steps Russia will take now. Russia announced that it would not talk to Saakashvili. It would be interesting to see how Russia will be speaking to Georgia now, when Saakashvili is no longer in power.
2. What favorable terms can be offered to Abkhazians and Ossetians, to waive the fraudulent offers made by Russia?
- It is necessary to take small steps to restore the confidence of the Abkhazian and Ossetian people, so that they do not feel fear, are devoid of the sense of threat posed by Georgia. Georgia must become a state which never resorts to aggression. We should not start with political action in order to restore confidence in Georgia. Those can be economic projects, projects in medicine, culture and sports. One can solve a lot of issues and this will build up confidence in the Abkhaz and Ossetian societies that Georgia has actually changed, and that the power is actually different from that of Saakashvili.
Rashad Rustamov, "Zerkalo" newspaper - (Azerbaijan)
1. How is the government of Georgia going to reintegrate Abkhazia and South Ossetia and establish its sovereignty there?
- I think I have already answered this question. I will only add that the rapprochement may be to an extent desired by the peoples.
2. Do you think Saakashvili was responsible for the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
- I do not think that we have lost Abkhazia and Ossetia, but the responsibility for the fact that Russia recognized their independence lies with Saakashvili. The recognition, however, does not mean that all is lost for us, it will be difficult, but we must move forward.
Aydin Karimov, "Novoye Vremya" newspaper - (Azerbaijan)
- What do you think the relationship with Azerbaijan is going to be, and what is your vision of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution?
- Oil and gas pipelines run across Georgia. Azerbaijan is Georgia’s serious and sustained strategic ally, which, by the way, maintains good relations not only with Russia, but with all its neighbors. As for Nagorno-Karabakh, I cannot as a Minister for conflicts, teach others, for we ourselves have our own conflicts. We want to resolve this conflict through the creation of such a state that will pose the interest of Abkhazians and Ossetians in it, and I think that Azerbaijan could aspire to become such a state, which would be attractive for the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Anna Bartkulashvili, freelance journalist (Azerbaijan)
1. Were Abkhazia and South Ossetia interested in the change of power in Georgia, and, if so, what is it, in your opinion?
-The names of Saakashvili and the National movement are linked to war, fraud, termination of dialogue, and no matter how the Abkhazians perceive Georgia - either as a hostile country or as simply a neighboring state – the Georgian-Abkhazian problems will remain, and Georgia will not get anywhere. Therefore, it is better to live next to a state which will not be considered threatening. The Abkhaz and Ossetian communities should have been interested in that change of power in Georgia so that the new government would be in favor of peace and the restoration of confidence between our nations.
2. You are a famous and respected man, not only in Georgia but also in Abkhazia. You have announced of the willingness to revise the law "On occupied territories." What will your first steps be to this end?
- No, we are not going to change the law, because, according to Georgian legislation and international law foreign armed forces are present in the territory of Georgia without the knowledge and consent of Georgian authorities. So I think that law should remain unchanged just as it is now. But if any positions stipulated in the law will prevent the de-isolation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we will review those articles of the law. So far, it is not our problem. I do not think that I should start my work with the review of the Law. 
Leyla Aliyeva, political scientist, Director of the Center for National and International Studies (Azerbaijan)
- Your assignment as the Minister for Integration is definitely a compliment to this government! It is in these means that I see the prompt way out of the present situation. And I would like to know where you would begin with the resolution of all the existent problems? What keys would you use for this?
- We should not consider a quick way out of the current situation, for this will be a long, slow and step-by-step process. We first need to revise the Georgian context and Georgian politics. I do not think we should rush to Abkhazians and Ossetians seeking for a meeting with them. First of all, we need to form the new Georgian politics with all its pertaining agencies, departments, ministries so that we have a distinct peace program. We must convince the Georgian society that our program and our actions are correct. It is necessary to form new Georgian politics and bring it to the meeting with the Abkhazians and Ossetians.
David Stepanyan, "Arminfo" news agency - (Azerbaijan)
1. Back in the election campaign, the leader of the Georgian Dream Party Ivanishvili said that the coalition is considering the opening of through rail and road communications across Abkhazia. How do you think this will happen and what may Georgia gain from it?
- The opening of any communication routes is beneficial for all parties. Therefore, if the through rail and road communications are opened, it will be good for all the peoples, through the territory of which these routes will pass. For this sake, we are on our part willing to remove all the obstacles, if any. It is not only the Georgian side that is to blame for the fact that cars or trains do not run on these roads. If the Abkhazian or Russian sides cause this, it will no longer be our problem. I have no illusions, and I know there will be many challenges, but at the same time no one should point a finger at Georgia for the lack of the railway and other communication. If we will achieve this, we shall have made a step in the right direction, and by then we shall have seen who does not want the opening of these roads - Russia or the Abkhaz side?
2.Is the new government of Georgia going to offer new methods and models of cooperation with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and if so, which are those? Can this model be extended to other unresolved conflicts in the former Soviet Union space?
- Each conflict has its own peculiarities, and they are not like one another. Even the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict is not similar to the Georgian-Ossetian one. But the main and common recipe is that it takes an understanding of the opposite side’s interests, if you want to solve your own conflict, to respect and understand the interests, apprehensions, and expectations of the other side, and to combine those interests with your own. This is the way – to move forward step by step. That is why the process of conflict resolution is procrastinated.
3.The program of the new government of Georgia expresses the latter’s readiness to resume the dialogue with Russia, while actively working on the de-occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in an attempt to "find common ground with Abkhazians and Ossetians. Don’t you see contradictions in this thesis?
- There is definitely no contradiction here. You have to take the steps that are feasible today, and not just stand still, because it is impossible to make any major moves presently. It is not likely to have absolutely no issues between Russia and Georgia, Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgian and Ossetia that will not be able to be solved jointly. But we always focus on issues that cannot be solved today, and we beat our heads against the brick wall. Is it possible that, for example, Russia and Georgia would fail to find common ground on the issue of North Caucasus, for example? After all, not only Russia is concerned with the problems of North Caucasus concern. Georgia is concerned, too, for it neighbors with almost all the parts of North Caucasus. We can solve many other issues, such as railways and roads, not getting down to the ones that break us apart. The issue of communications will, by the way, positively impact on the settlement of other disputable issues.
Gagik Baghdasaryan, "Novosti Armenia" news agency - (Armenia)
1. Mr. Zakareishvili, do you see any possibility of opening the Georgian-Abkhazian segment of the railway in the foreseeable future?
- I have already answered that question, there should be no obstacle. Even if there are such, and by the way, there will be some obstacles, they should not come from the Georgian side.
2. Is it possible to restore economic relations between Georgia and Russia before solving the political problems between the two countries?
- There are no diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia, but it did not prevent from negotiations over the opening of Lars checkpoint after the war. Moreover, as a result of a long and successful series of negotiations between Russia and Georgia, Russia joined WTO.
3. In your opinion, can we expect an abrupt change in the foreign policy of Georgia after the actual change of power in Tbilisi? Can Georgia move to a multi-vector foreign policy?
- Georgia’s main vector will still be the West with an emphasis on joining NATO. And it will not hamper the normalization of relations with Russia. We know a lot of countries that want to join NATO, but have not spoilt their relations with Russia. These are the Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. I think that due to the right policies led by the Georgian authorities these issues will be solved similarly with the Baltic States.
4. What steps does the new government intend to take to address the problems of national minorities?
- The old government of Georgia has also taken steps in this direction, and we must maintain this policy to increase the integration of national minorities into the Georgian society.
Angela Khachatryan, freelance journalist (Armenia)
1. In the recent years, Georgia has become a model of democracy for the neighboring countries. And the Parliamentary elections held in Georgia on October 1, again confirmed the truthfulness of this opinion. What do you think the phenomenon of Georgia consists in? Can this serve as a lesson to be learnt by the other countries in South Caucasus?
- I think that the Georgian people have come to believe in themselves and in the fact that their fate is not decided somewhere in Washington, Brussels or Moscow, but rather that their fate is in their own hands. It was, by the way, the opposition that worked diligently in this direction, and managed to convince the public that much depends on them, and that everyone - Moscow, Brussels and Washington – will have to take their decision into account. The authoritarian regime of Saakashvili was so unbearable, that the Georgian society decided that things could not remain as they were and acted very responsibility in the elections.
2. The Armenian population in Georgia reacted very passionately to Ivanishvili’s statement on Armenians, despite the fact that Ivanishvili then corrected his mistake. What conditions and authorities will the Armenian population of Georgia have under Ivanishvili? Who does the Armenian population  in Georgia sympathizes with – Ivanishvili or Saakashvili?
- The national minorities in Georgia have normally always voted for the incumbent power. If you look at the results in the Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli, you will see that the representatives of the National Movement won there, that is to say this phenomenon made itself evident once again. But the large percentage of votes won by the opposition as it was in these elections was unprecedented in Georgia. Both Armenians and Azerbaijanis believed in the opposition, and they cast their votes for the opposition. This is a good sign, I am glad to see that the wind of freedom and democracy has begun to penetrate into these places, too, and I hope that during the next election the citizens living in these areas, too, will realize that their destiny is in their hands.
The conditions for Armenians in Georgia will be the same as those for all its citizens. We need to build a state where people will not feel they are different because they have a different name, religion or identity.
3. Many political scientists and experts often say that the Georgian-Russian conflict will be resolved due to a change of power in both countries. Do you agree to this opinion, and is the government of Georgia presently willing to normalize relations with Russia?
- Definitely there is such willingness. I can confirm that Mr. Ivanishivli seeks to normalize relations with Russia, and established the institutional position of  the Personal Representative of the Prime Minister of Georgia on Russian issues on October 29. The well-known diplomat Zurab Abashidze has been appointed in that position.
Emil Babayan, correspondent of "Regnum" news agency in Armenia - 
1.In the numerous conversations we had you often criticized Saakashvili and his policy on Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Besides, you also claimed that not only could Russia and Georgia start a dialogue, but they could also establish constructive cooperation. 
Q: Have you changed your position after your appointment as minister, and if not, which ways to achieve the goals you identified do you consider acceptable?
- Russia and Georgia are not hypothetical countries, they have their own powers. Not that Russia and Georgia could, rather they must engage in a constructive dialogue.
2. Suppose Russia does not compromise on the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Is it possible to restore the diplomatic ties between Moscow and Tbilisi in this case?
- No, it is not!
3. In the early 90's you headed the department for the protection of religious rights in the Georgian State Committee on Human Rights and Interethnic Relations. In this regard, I would appreciate it if you shared your opinion on the policy currently led regarding the ethnic minorities living in Georgia, in particular, the Armenians in Javakhk. The representatives of the Armenian community assert that they are, at best, on the periphery of the Georgian political forces’ interests, and are suppressed by the Turkish-Azerbaijani element with the support of the power. They state that in Armenian-populated regions in the country the rights of people to the preservation of their native language, religion, history, schooling, and so on are violated. Would you please comment on this?
- I have on the whole already answered this question, but I will add that I do not agree to the fact that, allegedly with the support of the power Armenians are suppressed by the Turkish-Azerbaijani forces. This is unacceptable, and it is not what the matters are like. The problems in Javakheti are not conditioned by third countries, but rather by the poor integration of the population into the state structures of Georgia. I do not think that the Armenians of Javakheti cannot speak their own language, just the opposite; the Armenians in Javakheti and the Azerbaijanis in Kvemo Kartli speak their native language better than the state language. The problem here is not with the mother tongue, but with the state language. In Javakheti people know the history of Armenia better than that of Georgia. And this reveals the relation not to the Armenian, but Georgian history.  
Artak Barseghyan, Public Radio of Armenia -
1. What changes should be expected from the new Georgian government in its relations with Russia and Armenia?
- I think I have already answered this question.
2. What will your first order as a minister be?
- By my first order I have already appointed a deputy minister - Ketevan Tsikhelashvili.
3. Will the reforms launched by Saakashvili’s administration be wound up?
- It depends on which reforms you mean. When it comes to the reforms in the education sector, I should say they were horrible, leading to the complete disappearance of education among young people. We should not continue those reforms in any case. When it comes to the reforms regarding police patrols, I think these reforms should be continued. Not all reforms have paid off; basically all the reforms were aimed at creating a militarized Soviet Union in Georgia by means of neo-Bolshevism. These reforms were being implemented to maintain a one-party system, to instill the image of the enemy, to establish control over the media and businesses. These very reforms were a success under Saakashlvili. On October 1 we gave them up and turned to democracy.
"Hetq" online newspaper - 
1.You have been talking about the steps to be taken by Georgia in order to become an attractive state to Abkhazians and Ossetians. And are Abkhazians and Ossetians interested in the approximation with Georgia, and what does this interest consist in?
- Abkhazians and Ossetians are not interested in rapprochement with Georgia, they are interested in peace, security, development and prosperity. I am not sure that Russia is the right country to meet their basic needs of the kind. Georgia can do it better, because Georgia has successfully embarked on the track of democracy. Georgian democracy is democracy for all, we cannot live in a situation where the democracy in Georgia will be only for Georgians, while it will not be there for Abkhazians and Ossetians. Georgia will be like the sun that shines upon everyone. We will ensure convergence to the extent needed by these very people. Europe is the best example of this.
2.Can the example of Georgia become a model for Azerbaijan, which, on the contrary, officially denies any humanitarian connections before the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
- It is hard to say, time will come when Armenia and Azerbaijan will also be in a dialogue, because eternal enmity is something impossible. If this realization is not there yet, this situation has not matured yet, and maybe Armenia is not behaving in the right way. I find it difficult now to say that Armenia is behaving properly, while Azerbaijan refuses to meet halfway and declines any contacts. In order to have the other side to agree and negotiate, we must first correct the situation at home.
3.Isn’t your position a manifestation of politically romanticism?
- Life is not interesting without romanticism. Although many people think that I am more of a pragmatic than a romantic, because I believe that the interests of the parties always prevail over all emotions. If interests change, both the situation and the behavior change, too. Cyprus is the best example, where the issues remained unresolved for a long time. But now the dynamics shows that the Turkish Cypriots have more confidence in the Greeks now than before. So I am sure that is Georgia is on the right track, the Abkhazians and Ossetians will trust Georgia more than before.



30 January, 2014
Right after the New Year, the citizens of Armenia were shocked by the gas and electricity bills for December.

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